Counter offers a wealth of dining opportunities; a place for early morning clubbing stragglers to eat brunch, an alternative option for contemporary food lovers or a relaxed bar lounge where you can enjoy a cocktail whilst kicking back with friends…
French / New York
In A Word
My Counter Encounter
India: My stomach panged in anticipation as I visualised roast duck, scallops and rounds of refreshing cocktails. I had made Friday night dinner plans the week before and being highly organised and efficient (read: greedy), I had looked at the menu as soon as the booking had been confirmed.
Now a week had passed and it was almost time for dinner. Sat at my work desk that Friday afternoon, my mouth agape and salivating, I browsed Counter’s website dreaming of all the delicious food I would order.
The menu was astounding; especially considering the fact that the restaurant is based in Vauxhall, an area well known for its throwback era roller disco and gay cultural hotspots – not high cuisine. I was intrigued, and hungry.
As I sized up Counter’s dessert list, I caught a buzz of excitement pervading the office I worked in. Then I remembered. Of all the nights to make plans I had picked the Friday where my employers were laying on a free bar and American style buffet to commemorate our soon to be departing CEO.
I left my colleagues behind and made my way across London (via a tube carriage that smelt overwhelmingly of damp), the previous excitement I had felt about an evening of fine dining beginning to wane.
In fact, I was now pretty reluctant by the prospect of tasting the unknown, my grumbling stomach taunting me as I was reminded of all the beef burgers that I could be eating instead. Spirits slightly limp, I traipsed the short walk to Vauxhall’s infamous railway arches, one of which housed the Counter restaurant…
My mood immediately alleviated as soon as I stepped in and found myself greeted by two cheerful members of staff. I was welcomed into the restaurant like an old friend, Dimitri’s and Alyssia’s warm smiles were genuine as they directed me to my seat and hoped that I “enjoyed my meal”.
Crashing into a booth I gazed at the surroundings, suddenly overcome by a sense of familiarity. The decor is industrial but slickly glamourous, contrasted with low lighting that still manages to emit a brightly lit glow. Leather seated booths cushion thick marble tables, and though the restaurant area is spacious it isn’t intimidatingly bare.
The sleek black and chrome bar area is manned by smartly dressed tenders, who work with their back towards glass cabinets that display vast arrays of alcohol. I was later told that the restaurant’s décor is partly inspired by New York’s meat packing district.
I had spent many childhood summers in the city, which is why I had been earlier hit with a wave of déjà vu; the furnishings an innovative spin on one of Manhattan’s most recognisable neighbourhoods.
I ordered a cocktail and enjoyed the atmosphere, chit chatting with Pedro, one of our waiters for the evening. It came with a long rind of cucumber, which swirled round the glass and complimented a slightly acidic peach taste with cooling smoothness. Pedro had suggested the drink to me and it was a great choice, palate cleansing and light.
Once settled I followed instinct, requesting duck l’Orange as a main but ordering Salt and Black Pepper Squid as a starter instead (Jack chose the scallops, I would just nick one of his). On the rare occasions I eat Chinese food I usually order roasted duck, so I was excited to try the meat in a different way.
It wasn’t long before our first course arrived, beautifully presented in a sizeable portion. The squid was crisped with both parts of the seafood, the meaty middle and crunchy tentacles (pretty sure they were tentacles), laid out to serve. Complementing the squid was black aioli, a garlic sauce with earthy flavor, as well as a green chilli salsa.
True to my word, I nabbed a scallop from Jack’s plate which was soft, succulent and slightly sweet. If served without bacon I would definitely opt for those next time. Travis, another friendly waiter, bought over a house red wine suggesting it as an accompaniment to our mains.
Admittedly, I am not a wine connoisseur, yet I contributed heavily to draining the whole bottle. Jack (definitely a wine, and everything alcoholic, connoisseur) described it as one of the best house wines he had ever guzzled…
Well deserving of the saucer like eyes they were met with, the duck a l’Orange and Jack’s fillet steak were eventually bought out to us. Cooked two ways, 1970s a l’Orange style and croustillante, the duck was not standard fare.
Both styles offer their own distinct textures, the butternut squash served alongside seemingly glazed with honey, reminiscent of the flavor provided by roasted parsnips. I barely breathed between the scoffs of buttery Parmentier potatoes and nutmeg spiced creamed spinach that came with our meals.
Jack’s substantial steak also looked inviting, but I declined a nibble – far too bloody for me.
[Ed: man up son]
Philip, Counter’s dapper owner, came over during the main and introduced himself. Philip’s passion for cuisine and affinity with the local area is entrenched throughout the establishment, wonderfully evident in the expertly made food we ate. A great deal of effort is funnelled into the menu, with the choices continually changing depending on the season.
Feeling decidedly stuffed, I didn’t think I could battle my way through dessert. Until I was reminded of what was on the menu…
Listed were abundant treats that sounded too delightful to resist. I was swayed towards the poached pear, which I was told came with a “bitter twist”. The poached pear looks deceptively ‘eat clean’; plonked whole on the plate with great aplomb, the fruit comes alongside a dollop of pear sorbet, and sticky molasses which provide the wicked bite.
Jack settled on maple cheesecake, a safe bet. I, of course, stole a generous helping from his plate and found it to be authentically East Coast, the cream cheese topping the biscuit base pleasantly rich without being overbearingly sweet.
Counter’s food is magnificent, made even more tantalising by the brilliant customer service that goes along with it.
The restaurant is in keeping with Vauxhall’s established reputation as a clubbing hangout, and rather than Counter being a staid and unnecessary addition to the area it is completely relevant to this part of Lambeth. There is even a lively little bar at the back of the venue, which pumps out music and dispenses alcohol aplenty.
Counter is non-chain, a complete one-off, which only further cements its appeal. The employees at Counter further solidify this restaurant from ‘good’ to ‘great’, their local knowledge and confident manoeuvring of the menu seems to be motivated by a real affection for the idiosyncratic place they work in.
Earlier this year my sister, a Vauxhall local, had made her own trip to Counter where she described the food as “faultless”. Added to this, a close friend also used the term to describe the restaurant, stating that it was her ‘go to’ wine bar.
I live not too far away from Counter and have no doubts that I will soon be joining the several other people who frequent the brasserie.
I have already made plans for brunch.